Teachers are overpaid by as much as 52 percent, according to a report issued November 1 by the Heritage Foundation and presented at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. The report asserts that this is "...equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year. Teacher compensation could therefore be reduced with only minor effects on recruitment and retention."
What possible data would suggest teachers are overpaid when all other studies, including that by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, indicate that teachers are underpaid when compared with other bachelor degree occupations? I summarize their points below, and provide counterpoints to each.
Point: Bachelors degree comparisons are misleading because the years of education overestimate cognitive skills. On average, teachers have lower SAT and GRE scores. And the education major is not as rigorous as other bachelors degrees.
Counterpoint: While across America, not all teachers come from the top half of college classes, some teacher programs do require the same courses and rigor as non-teaching degrees. And some teachers are from the top of their class. If we want our teachers to be selected from only the top fraction of college graduates, as is the case in Finland, how is cutting teacher’s salaries by one-third going to move us that direction?
Point: When teachers enter the profession from other jobs, their income tends to go up. And when teachers leave teaching, their income goes down in the next job.
Counterpoint: Most teachers enter teaching after finishing their degree and obviously should make more than in their prior non-degree job. And in a decade with two recessions, where over a quarter of a million teachers have lost their teaching jobs, it is quite logical that those who did find another job are being paid less. There are 11 million other Americans from computing to law to insurance who have been laid off and are flipping burgers, etc. Does that drop-down income mean that they should have been paid hamburger wages when they were in their former highly skilled positions? Far too many Kansans are laid off and know that a fall-back job does not reflect the worth of your prior position.
The data for science teachers contradicts this assertion; they make dramatically more when they switch from teaching to industry where science shortages have been ongoing. Teachers from other secondary fields and elementary are more likely to only have lower paying job options when laid off.
Point: Public school teachers average more than non-public school teachers. And the working
conditions and expectations are essentially the same.
Counterpoint: About 11 percent of Kansas students do not go to public schools. Subtracting out the homeschooled, that leaves private and parochial schools. Our few private or college prep schools hire away the best teachers with higher salaries. But there is a much larger number of parochial schools and many operate with teachers who are teaching as their "mission" under much lower pay, thus pulling the average down. The HF-AEI report claims to exclude both elite and sectarian private schools from its figures. In Kansas, that leaves no private schools to compare.
Point: Teachers have retiree health coverage, defined-benefit pension plans, and a long summer vacation. The job security of teachers is also considered a real value that private workers do not have.
Counterpoint: In Kansas, teachers make the same contributions to retirement as non-teachers. Health care is negotiated locally and benefits are often minimal. Required professional development often takes up some "vacation" time. And many teachers work a summer job to make ends meet.
-And job security? Tell that to the 278,000 teachers nationwide who recently lost their jobs.
Next year is election time and in Kansas, we can expect these Washington DC arguments to be spread around our pastures by anti-education candidates.
Commonsense Kansans would be well-advised to put on your boots—and watch your step.
John Richard Schrock
Editors note: link to this report is: http://www.aei.org/docLib/CDA11-03-AEI.pdf